Friday, May 7, 2010

Shimu D'Var Hashem: The Art of Listening - The Chareidi of Yeshaya

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again - Parshas Behar - Bechukosai where One Above and Seven Below comes to life. Before anything else, I want to provide for the newer readers links to some of the great posts from last year.

For Parshas Behar we have the analysis of Hetter Mechira at:

Ki Li HaAretz - This Land is My Land - Eminent Domain

and for Parshat Bechukosai we have the classic

The Secret of Parshat Bechukosai which includes Yaakov's Story

And for those who are interested, Yaakov is indeed in Nachal Chareidi and is doing quite well, בלע"ה.

For now, I want to zero in on an excerpt from my pilot chapter with a discussion that was partially inspired by the divrei kvushim of Harav Hagaon Asher Zelig Weiss, Shlita from this week's shiur in Har Nof.

I have always maintained that the true definition of chareidi - and the one that those who are proud to call themselves chareidi lay claim to - is the definition provided by Yeshaya HaNavi who introduced the term. And what exactly did Yeshaya say?

שמעו דבר ה' החרדים אל דברו

Hear the word of G-d, those of you who are anxious toward His word...

Here is how I wrote it in the book (pp. 49-50):
I think that if one really wants to know what a chareidi is, the first thing to do is to consult with the one who coined the term – the prophet Isaiah. If I remember correctly from the Introduction, a chareidi is one who is anxious to hear the Word of G d which, at first glance, would seem to indicate one who is anxious to do what G d wants.

As simple as this may be, it doesn’t really work in practice. This is because anybody and everybody who claims to be religious is convinced that they are doing precisely what G d wants. Be it the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Masorati Jew, any flavor of Orthodox Jew and even religious non-Jews. Everybody is certain that everything he does is just hunky-dory with G d.

But if we take a closer look at the words of the prophet, we may notice something a bit more profound. It’s not so much that we do what G d wants as much as it is that we make it our business to know what it is that G d wants us to do. The prophet is talking about somebody who is anxious to hear what G d has to say; somebody who is listening to what G d wants.

These are the chareidim.

Being a Jew isn't easy. You know why? Because before we do anything else, we have to know what to do. And in order to know what to do, we have to listen. Listen to G-d. And listening is very hard.

Those of us who are married know how hard it is to listen! I have been taking extensive training to do marriage counseling. And what is the most common problem in marriage that brings couples running to counselors?


Do people not know how to communicate?

Of course, they do. They communicate loud and clear. Sometimes so loud that the whole neighborhood can pick up the communication. The problem is seldom in the transmission. It's in the reception. It is very difficult to listen.

And why is it so difficult to listen? It is because HKBH in His infinite wisdom gave us, as part of our anatomy, barriers that prevent us from listening. These are our ears.

Yes, you heard me right.

Ears are excellent instruments for hearing but not much good for listening. Because we don't listen with our ears. We listen with our hearts. The problem is that the only way for words to get to our hearts is through our ears. They are the sentries that filter out everything we hear. Whenever the ears hear something they must decide what to do with what they've heard. What they do is they check the switchboard to see which circuits are open. If the circuits to the heart happen to be open, they can forward the data there. But usually that circuit is blocked. So it looks for the next open circuit. That is usually the Recycle Bin.

And the words never reach our hearts.

So a true chareidi is one who can listen to the Word of G-d. It means that he has the circuits to his heart in On mode. He has an open heart. A heart that listens. A לב שומע .

I always say that a chareidi is one who is mekayem אם בחקותי תלכו . The prophet Yeshaya says it means one who listens to the Word of G-d. Says Harav Asher Weiss, Shlita, they are the same thing.

How so?

Because אם בחקותי תלכו means to be עמלים בתורה . And what does עמלים בתורה mean?

Says the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (6:4):

כך הִיא דַּרְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה: פַּת בַּמֶּלַח תֹּאכֵל, וּמַיִם בַּמְּשׁוּרָה תִּשְׁתֶּה, וְעַל הָאָרֶץ תִּישָׁן, וְחַיֵּי צַעַר תִּחְיֶה וּבַתּוֹרָה אַתָּה עָמֵל; וְאִם אַתָּה עוֹשֶֹה כֵן, "אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ" (תהלים קכח, ב) אַשְׁרֶיךָ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וְטוֹב לָךְ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא

Such is the manner of Torah: One must [be willing to] eat only bread with salt, and drink water by ration, and sleep on the ground, and live a life of discomfort, and in the Torah he is toiling...

To acquire Torah, one must minimize his indulgence in luxuries and creature comforts. These things stand in the way of Torah.

There are two ways of understanding this. The simple explanation is that luxuries and comforts do not come by themselves. One must put in effort to acquire them or the means to obtain them. For things that cost money, one must toil - work long hours - to amass the money to afford nice things. And there is only so much toil available. If his toil goes toward earthly pleasures it cannot be applied to Torah and so he will never acquire Torah. The pleasures will be fleeting and will not give him long-term satisfaction, so not only will he be unworthy for the delights of the next world, but he will be dissatisfied even in this world. He will lose both worlds.

Conversely, if he applies his toil to Torah and forgoes worldly pursuits, he will be satisfied with simple pleasures in this world (which are abundant) and will merit the delights of the next world as well.

But there is another explanation as to why one must eschew the pleasures of this world to acquire Torah. The pleasures of this world close the circuits to the heart.

We see this in the gemara in Shabbos 147b. The gemara discusses a place called Diyumeset that had wonderful healing waters and another place called Progiyatha that had exceptional wine. The gemara comments that the wine of Progiyatha and the water of Diyumeset stunted the ten tribes. Rashi explains that "they were pleasure seekers and they indulged in these (luxuries) and they did not indulge in Torah study and so they fell into decadence." And then the gemara tells of the following strange tale:

Rabi Elazar ben Arach went to there and he was drawn to them (i.e., to the wine and the bathing - Rashi) and his Torah was dislodged from him. When he returned to his home town he was called up to the Torah reading. He was supposed to read החדש הזה לכם (This month shall be for you...) and instead he read החרש היה לבם (Their hearts were made deaf...). The Rabbis prayed on his behalf and his Torah knowledge was restored.

What is the significance of this strange term: החרש היה לבם - Their hearts were made deaf?

Says Harav Weiss that when King Solomon first assumed his tenure as king of Israel, HKBH appeared to him in a dream and asked him what special gift he wishes for. King Solomon replied (Melachim I 3:9): And if you may give your servant a לב שמע - a heart that listens - to judge your nation...

A לב שמע - a heart that listens. A heart that understands.

Says Harav Weiss, if there is such a thing as a לב שמע there must be also such a thing as a לב חרש - a heart that is deaf. Rabi Elazar ben Arach found the לב חרש . A deaf heart is found in one who is drawn to the pleasures of this world, to the waters of Diyumeset and the wine of Progiyatha. For the pleasures of the flesh close the circuits of the heart from being able to hear the Word of G-d.

And so, if one subsists on bread and salt and meager water and applies his strength to the toil of Torah - ובתורה אתה עמל - then he can avoid the לב חרש and be worthy of a לב שמע , a heart that can hear the Word of G-d.

He can be what Yeshaya Hanavi calls a chareidi!

A chareidi is one who can hear the word of G-d, and a non-chareidi is one who cannot. Even one who does mitzvos, if he is not עמל בתורה , if he does not distance himself from the pleasures of this world, he closes his heart from hearing.

And so, the Tochacha begins: ואם לא תשמעו לי - If you do not listen to me...

If you have a deaf heart.

And what does this mean? Says Rashi: To be עמלים בתורה . Even if one does mitzvos, if he is not עמל בתורה he does not have a heart that can listen.

Pirkei Avot 2:9:

אָמַר לָהֶם: צְאוּ וּרְאוּ אֵיזוֹהִי דֶּרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיִּדְבַּק בָּהּ הָאָדָם. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר: עַיִן טוֹבָה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר: חָבֵר טוֹב. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר: שָׁכֵן טוֹב. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר: הָרוֹאֶה אֶת הַנּוֹלָד. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר: לֵב טוֹב. אָמַר לָהֶם: רוֹאֶה אֲנִי אֶת דִּבְרֵי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ, שֶׁבִּכְלָל דְּבָרָיו דִּבְרֵיכֶם.

He (Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai) said to them: Go out and see what is the straightforward way that one should adhere to. Rabi Eliezer (ben Horkynos) said: A good eye. Rabi Yehoshua said: A good friend. Rabi Yosi said: A good neighbor.Rabi Shimon (ben Nesanel) said: One who can understand what has newly developed. Rabi Elazar (ben Arach) said: A good heart - לב טוב . He said to them: I see the words of Rabi Elazar ben Arach [to be prevalent] for your words are included in his.

There are 49 days between Pesach and Shavuos. 49 days in which to rise 49 levels from slavery until we can accept the Torah. We must acquire the 49 levels. The לב טוב .

לב טוב = 49

A לב טוב is a לב שומע. It's the heart that Rabi Elazar ben Arach used to have until he bathed in the fine waters and drank the fine wine. It is the heart of one who is עמל בתורה. It is the heart of one who listens to the Word of G-d.

It is the heart of a chareidi l'dvar Hashem.


Y. Ben-David said...

Regarding Shmitta-This is one of the most unpleasant aspects of modern religious life in Eretz Israel today. For the vast majority of the population, it is simply one big problem. It is not like the weekly Shabbat, which in spite of its restrictions, is very pleasant for one who observes it halachically. While it is true that the small number of farmers who do not work the land in the Shmitta year can use the time off to study Torah (I saw this on Kibbutz Shaalvim many years is a Poalei Agudat Israel kibbutz that does not rely on the Heter Mechira) or otherwise enrich themselves spirtually, for all the rest of us it is simply a chance for equally pious, religious Jews to go at each other's throats and to be forced into bad compromises. This is not just on the National Religious side which is confronted with the problem of loving Eretz Israel and settling it, and then selling it to a non-Jew at the same time, but it also affects those who do not rely on the heter mechira, because the Otzar Beit Din has all kinds of leniencies and illogical consequences. For example, the places that sell Jewish fruit that is not grown according to the heter mechira are called "tahanot halukka" ("distribution stations" as opposed to "stores) becuase, in theory, the fruit is hefker and is distributed, not "sold". Yet in fact, the farmer collects it and sells it and is paid for it pretty much like during a regular year and the consumer buys it more or less the same way they do the rest of the time, so there is no practical difference between a shmitta year and a regular year, as regards these fruits.

I should point out that there are Religious Zionists who have been aware of the problem I mentioned above about selling Eretz Israel and they have tried to get away from relying on the heter mechira. The spread of "Gush Katif"-type agriculture, growing in "atzitzim" (platforms not connected to the ground) was supposed to help in this regards.

Yet there is another problem. Two shmittas ago, after the Haredim got control of the Chief Rabbinate, it was announced that the Rabbinate would not carry out the "heter mechira" any more and some local, municipal Rabbinates said they would refuse to allow even NON-mehadrin restaurants and stores to use things grown by the heter mechira if done by some other body (in the end, the Chief Rabbinate did do it after being threatened with having an independent body carry it out). I asked a Rav why they would not allow non-Mehadrin people to use it. He replied that the Rabbis had determined that "there was no longer a need for the heter mechira". I then asked "what about the farmers who would lose a year's parnasa (income). Has some arrangment been made for them?". I did not receive a reply.

All-in-all, an unsatisfactory situation.

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